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Author Kameron Hurley is procrastinating on her novel has written another interesting blog post, this one called UNPACKING THE “REAL WRITERS HAVE TALENT” MYTH. She makes a few points that are similar to ones I made in a previous post about talent and hard work, Teaching Writers To Be Talented, but she comes at it from a different perspective.

I especially like the way she emphasizes study as much as hard work. Sure, a writer can create page after page of prose, but unless there’s a continuous struggle to separate what works from what doesn’t, and unless there’s an open-minded willingness to study the form in depth, all that hard work may not mean actual improvement.

Yeah, it’s nice to have “talent”, whatever that is. I mean, I talk about talent in that old post I just linked to, but I’m surprised to see that I never used the term black box to describe it.

People call others “talented” based on what they create, but you can never really know the process that lead to that final creation. Was it a “natural gift”? Did they study the craft for years? Were they working in a parallel field then carried a few lessons over? Did they grow up in a home rich with language?

Even if you were to ask the author directly, you could never be sure their answer is accurate, not when writers say things like “I didn’t have talent. I had hard work.” and “I just sat down to write a book and a publisher picked it up!” People have a tendency to overlook important factors like years of fanfic/journal writing, or even something as simple as a house full of books.

Hurley’s post is worth reading, not least because she gives hard concrete examples of the way she learned. “Blindly groping along” I think is the way she put it, which covers so many of us.

To take this even further, consider artist Molly Crabapple’s post Filthy Lucre:

Meritocracy is America’s foundational myth. If you work hard, society tells us, you’ll earn your place in the middle class. But any strawberry picker knows hard work alone is a fast road to nowhere. Similarly, we place our faith in education. Study, and the upper-middle class will be yours. Except the average student graduates $35,000 in debt.

Artists too have their myths. The lies told to artists mirror the lies told to women. Be good enough, be pretty enough, and that guy or gallery will sweep you off your feet, to the picket-fenced land of generous collectors and two and a half kids. But, make the first move, seize your destiny, and you’re a whore.

But neither hard work nor talent nor education are passports to success. At best, they’re small bits of the puzzle.


It’s easy to ignore luck, privilege, and bloody social climbing when you stand onstage in a pair of combat boots. It’s easy to say that if people are just good enough, work hard enough, ask enough, believe enough, they will be [successful].

She’s coming at things from the fine arts, so her concerns are somewhat different. She needs funds to create her artwork, while for writers the main constraint is time. Time to read, research, write, and revise. Time to make the work and do it without interruption. For me and most writers I know, the major limitations on our time come from the paying work we must do to support ourselves and our families, and the time we have to spend caring for our loved ones (addendum: we need loved ones; being lonely can kill you).

Even with talent and hard work, there’s always a chance of failure. Money helps. Luck helps. Lots of free time helps. Supportive people help. Success comes from a mix of some or all of those things, and the more of them you have the better.

However, just to re-emphasize the point:

Hard work + self-awareness + perseverance = MAYBE

That’s a quote from Scott Lynch’s post from today. It’s another long one, but again worth reading.

The big takeaway is that, you have to work hard, you have to be lucky, you have to stick it out, but even if you do everything “right” there are still no guarantees.

Speaking of which, if you’ve read this far you’re entitled to a little news. Here it is:

THE WAY INTO CHAOS, aka A Blessing of Monsters, aka Epic Fantasy With No Dull Parts, has gone the rounds of New York publishes and found no takers. The very last rejection came this morning, which is why I dredged up this post from the pile of unfinished ones in my dashboard.

The reasons giving in those rejections are interesting if not instructive. Today’s pointed out that the current market favors fantasy that’s very dark, while TWIC is not. (So much for being ahead of the curve).

In any event, yes, I will have to finish the book, then self-publish it (with some crowd-sourced help to pay for editing and cover art). That’s some weeks away still, but damn.

There are no guarantees.

Mirrored from Twenty Palaces. You can comment here but not there.


( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 14th, 2013 06:03 pm (UTC)
Aw, damn. I still love the sound of that book, and look forward to getting it into my grubby mitts however it arrives!

(Gonna hire Betsy to edit?)
Jun. 14th, 2013 09:35 pm (UTC)
I would love to, but I doubt I can afford her.
Jun. 14th, 2013 09:41 pm (UTC)
You can if you know how much it is when you go into the crowdfund campaign! And now I will silence any further Helpyness and just wait to give you my money. :)
Jun. 14th, 2013 09:52 pm (UTC)
I will definitely be contacting her once I have a firm idea of how long the book is. That way we'd be better able to work out the cost.

And please, more Helpyness! You're someone who has done this very well, and while I don't think I could copy your path to success, I'm sure I could adapt some of your methods into basic principles I could use.
Jun. 14th, 2013 06:16 pm (UTC)
I am so tired of the "very dark" so I guess I have to ride it out and read other stuff until the pendulum swings again.

Meantime, I'm looking forward to yours. "TWIC is not" was a sure sell for me!
Jun. 14th, 2013 09:42 pm (UTC)
"With a bright flash, Sting cut through the rope, dropping the chandelier on the hapless charging orcs. Frodo, having kept his grip on the rope, was born upward like a bird in flight, swinging across the room to the high window ledge.

He turned and saluted the room, his rakish grin broader than ever. "What ho, fellows! Better luck next time!"

The Witch-King shook his black-mailed fist. "Curse you, Baggins!" he roared, as the dashing hero leapt out of the window into the inky safety of night."

Heh. It's not as though I've written something frothy and light. I just want my son to be able to read it (not that he will).
Jun. 14th, 2013 09:53 pm (UTC)
Now that, I will pay down cash for.
Jun. 14th, 2013 10:22 pm (UTC)
As soon as it turns public domain...
Jun. 14th, 2013 10:25 pm (UTC)
Jun. 14th, 2013 06:55 pm (UTC)
sorry that trad pubbing passed, maybe if you had Titled it THE WAY INTO DARK CHAOS and then implied that it really really goes dark dark dark in about book 4, but you need the setup so when it does, it goes wonderfully bad.


With the market now being dark, who knows what the market will be in the 18+ months when a book bought now will be released?
Jun. 14th, 2013 09:46 pm (UTC)

With luck, the market will soon be pointing straight at me. Not that I'm planning for that.
Jun. 15th, 2013 10:22 am (UTC)
I will but it when its time.
Jun. 14th, 2013 06:59 pm (UTC)
Sorry to hear about your book. I hope you do a kickstarter or the like so you can release it that way. I'll definitely contribute.

I'm so sick of all the stupid grimdark stuff out there right now. I find myself reading more and more YA fantasy lately, partly because I like it of course, but mostly because YA ranges much more widely than fantasy for adults does in both tone and ideas. Have you ever thought of writing YA? I think you'd be really good at it.
Jun. 14th, 2013 09:47 pm (UTC)
Judging by the responses here and elsewhere, I'm thinking "Not Grimdark!" is the way to spread the word.

As for writing YA, I'd have to read more of it than I do.
Jun. 14th, 2013 07:30 pm (UTC)

So, Kickstarter? This is a different situation from TP and setting up a campaign might seem like a pain in the ass but I have a feeling this could really work for the book. At the very least, it would be extra publicity.

Personally, I vow to pledge AT LEAST bucks. And pester people about it on Reddit and Something Awful and so forth. And I think I can threaten/blackmail at least two of my friends into pledging.

Edited at 2013-06-14 07:36 pm (UTC)
Jun. 14th, 2013 09:49 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it looks like I'm heading for Kickstarter, which isn't a bad thing but it's outside my comfort zone to ask people for things. More opportunities for personal growth, right?

And thank you. I'll need all the help I can get.
Jun. 14th, 2013 09:55 pm (UTC)
I do wish you kept "EPIC FANTASY WITH NO DULL PARTS" as the title. I have a feeling this was your crucial mistake.
Jun. 14th, 2013 10:05 pm (UTC)
Actually, it occurred to me that many readers would take the title as a challenge; the first time someone got to a part they didn't like or that was meant to be a lull in the action, their reaction would be See? I knew it!

The title was always meant to be aspirational anyway.
Jun. 14th, 2013 10:47 pm (UTC)
Jun. 18th, 2013 03:40 am (UTC)
EPIC FANTASY WITH NO DULL PARTS might work as a project title for the Kickstarter campaign.
Jun. 18th, 2013 03:58 pm (UTC)
It would take a bolder man than me.
Jun. 15th, 2013 05:34 am (UTC)
Long-time lurker, first time poster.

I'm a fan of dark and gritty fantasy, but this surprises me. From the other side of the fence it always seemed the heroic stuff had much more wide market appeal and the darker books few and far between. So it's shocking to hear the big 4.5 turning down less grim stuff. Are they that eager to cash in on spillover from HBO's GoT success? Does the success of the likes of Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks mean nothing? What about more middle-of-the-road fare such as Scott Lynch's and Rothfuss's series? It makes no sense.

At least you're not alone in going Kickstarter, but you already know all about it. When the time comes, I'll put in enough to get a copy.
Jun. 16th, 2013 04:42 am (UTC)
I think you're falling victim to the survivorship bias I was just blogging about a few days ago. Yeah, Sanderson and Weeks are doing well, but how about the midlist? Where is the midlist holding up?

Also, I'm pretty sure Lynch falls in with the grimdark, or at least comes very close. As for Rothfuss he's doing his own thing. I'm not sure anyone is looking specifically for "more like Pat Rothfuss" except for the whole reasonable-well-written-ubermensch thing.
Jun. 15th, 2013 12:41 pm (UTC)
By the way. What you must do is arrange an AMA on http://www.reddit.com/r/fantasy and time it with the Kickstarter. I believe you'll have message a mod (toolbar on the right, elquesogrande is probably your best bet) to do it.
Jun. 16th, 2013 04:35 am (UTC)
That's a good idea. Thanks!
Jun. 17th, 2013 12:50 am (UTC)
I'm sorry to hear that you didn't have better success with the traditional publishers this time. I of course wish you luck with the crowd sourcing and thank you for mentioning it in advance, so that I might save up a donation. Never hurts to start getting the word out early.
Jun. 17th, 2013 05:28 pm (UTC)
Giving early warning about a Kickstarter is supposed to be one of the keys to succeeding.
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )

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